When we were going through the college admissions process with my son, we weren’t just looking for colleges, he was looking to get recruited to play baseball as well. If you ever go through the athletic recruiting process, you quickly learn this puts a different spin on your college search. Because if you want to get recruited to play in college, the recommendation is to start by targeting at least 50 possible schools you can play at. And this same approach could dramatically increase non-athletes’ ability to create a perfect college list and even increase chances of academic scholarships.

Now, of course, we aren’t talking about nationally ranked blue chip athletes who have been recruited by their sports’ powerhouses since their sophomore year. We’re talking about the other 95% of high school athletes. Kinda like the 95% of students that don’t expect to get into Harvard and the like.

But 50 schools? Yes. Here’s why it makes sense. These 50 schools are selected because they are a match for the athlete’s playing level (D1, D2, D3, etc) and meet some broad academic preferences (location, size, major). That’s it.


Start Big, Go Small

Here’s what happens next. The athletes contact the coaches and express interest in playing at the school. The coach then asks the athletes some basic questions and then says either:

A: Sorry, we don’t have any openings for the position (good-bye 10 schools) or
B: Sure, go ahead and send me some video.

If it’s “B” and the athletes speak to the coaches again and the coaches say either:

A: Sorry, you’re not really what we’re’ looking for at the position (good-bye another 10 schools) or
B: I saw some good stuff, I think we should talk.

I’m sure you can see where this is going. The process repeats itself with schools dropping off of the list because the athlete isn’t offered a large enough scholarship, differences in coaching philosophy, athletes don’t click with the team, campus isn’t a good fit, and so on.

It really doesn’t take long at all to shorten a list of 50 schools to 10 or fewer. But these last 10 schools are going to be the best opportunities available.

This is something non-athletes can learn from athletic recruiting: start with a big list. The more schools you start with, the more likely you are to find not just one, or two, or three, but six, seven, eight or more schools that you would be happy to attend and likely to afford.

Yet, this is an area that many families struggle with. How do you find schools that meet your basic requirements? How do you create the list of 50 potential schools? Here are 5 simple things you can do to expand your college horizons and create a list of 5-10 fantastic schools to apply to.


1. Use CollegeResults.org

CollegeResults.org includes a feature that allows you to list similar colleges to the one you just selected. It’s based on an algorithm that identifies schools with similar features. Go beyond just the “Top 15” for maximum effect.


2. Visit the colleges with no lines at college fairs

If you haven’t been to a college fair, you’ll know what I mean as soon as you walk into one. There will be the colleges whose tables are being mobbed by students trying to get information or show demonstrated interest. Then there will be those where it looks like students are walking by quickly, trying to avoid eye contact. Those are the ones you want to visit.

Why? Because those representatives know they’ve got maybe 30 seconds to make an impression on you to convince you to stay and maybe sign up for more information. So they’re likely to tell you things about their colleges that you hadn’t considered before. And it may be something that you start looking for in other colleges as well. Remember, just because you talk to them doesn’t mean that you have to apply much less attend the school. But it is a good way to find colleges you hadn’t considered before.


3. Use your state flagship stats as a starting point

First, it doesn’t have to be your state flagship. It should be the in-state public school you plan on applying to. Maybe as a safety, maybe not. In either case, use the stats from the freshman class to search for other schools with similar stats. Test scores are the obvious choice. You will be surprised at what other schools in your state has student bodies with similar test scores. Graduation rates are another possible search factor.


4. Search by accrediting agencies or exam passing rates

If you’re considering a major such as engineering or nursing, you’re going to want to make sure the college is accredited by the appropriate agency. You can visit these agency websites to find out which schools are accredited. And for those that require certification exams, states list the passing rates for the exams by college. This can be a great place to find the schools most likely to get you started on your chosen career path.


5. Search by test scores rather than acceptance rates

Too often students assume that colleges with lower acceptance rates have students with higher academic qualifications. However, once you get beyond the lottery admission schools like Yale and Stanford, you’ll find schools with acceptance rates over 50% that can have freshman class stats that look a lot like those with rates below 50%. You’re going to open up a lot more opportunities by looking at actual qualifications than just acceptance rates.